The cyber cell phone hacking company NSO Group has temporarily blocked some of its 40 government-clients around the world from using the Pegasus tracking software, NPR reported on Friday.

An employee from NSO updated NPR that some clients had been blocked following the visit of Israeli government officials to its Herzliya headquarters on Wednesday.

NSO has blocked clients or ended their contracts before when its Pegasus cell phone hacking software was misused, but this was the first time NSO admitted to doing so in real time to a media and diplomatic crisis.

Last week, 17 new organizations along with Forbidden Stories and Amnesty International said they had exposed a 50,000 cell phone number list which represented NSO targets, including journalists, human rights activists and French President Emmanuel Macron, for non-democratic clients.

Though NSO has denied the charges, the flood of stories has put its practices under a microscope on an unprecedented level.

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The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee has vowed to investigate the issue, though as of Thursday an official asked to hold off on providing an update until Sunday.

As the Israeli government gets deeply involved it is both probing the cyber hacking outfit and starting to defend it from some allegations.

As of Thursday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz had met with French officials and gone on record that not only was NSO not involved in hacking French President Emmanuel Macron’s cell phone, but that its program also was not used.

This was at the same time that Defense Ministry officials along with the Mossad, IDF intelligence and other security establishment officials visited NSO’s Herzliya headquarters to physically investigate certain allegations against the cyber =attack group.  

The Jerusalem Post has visited these offices in the past and whereas all guests must hand in their cell phones before being allowed to enter, the tables are now being turned with NSO needing to open its doors and systems to an unprecedented level of scrutiny.

The intergovernmental committee probing the saga appears to be led by the Defense Ministry, but with influential input from the Mossad, IDF intelligence, the Foreign Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office due to some of the broader diplomatic and intelligence implications.

The Post has reported in the past that Israel used sales of NSO technology to moderate Sunni Arab countries to further the normalization process.

According to last week’s reports. Saudi Arabia and UAE were major recipients of NSO hacking technology which they allegedly misused against political rivals and critics, leading eventually to their contracts being cut off.

NSO has challenged the veracity of the specific claims against it as well as the idea that it would have targeted 50,000 cell phones when it says that each contract is limited to usually a few dozen cell phones.

Moreover, it has said that its technology is used to combat terror, drug rings and pornography.

However, NSO has admitted that some of its clients have misused its technology and that it has cut off certain contracts, without specifying the identity of the clients.

NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio confirmed to MIT Technology Review that the visit had taken place but said, “I believe it’s very good that they are checking, since we know the truth and we know that the list never existed and is not related to NSO.”

At this point, both the source and meaning of the list remain unclear, but numerous phones on it were hacked, according to technical analysis by Amnesty International’s Security Lab.

When asked if the government’s investigation process will continue, Hulio told MIT Technology Review that he hopes it will be ongoing.

“We want them to check everything and make sure that the allegations are wrong,” he added.





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